The defense team for Spc. Neftaly Platero said Army investigators “lost their objectivity” during the investigation of the shootings that occurred Sept. 23, 2010, at Camp Fallujah in Iraq. Platero’s murder trial/court-marshal began Monday on Fort Stewart.
Civilian attorney Guy Womack, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, told the five-member military jury the Army failed to investigate the possibility of another suspect for the fatal shootings of Pfc. John Carrillo and Pfc. Gebrah Noonan and wounding of Pfc. Jeffrey Shonk.
He alleged that Arabic language was heard by an Iraqi interpreter, suggesting the possibility that the shooter might have been an Iraqi soldier, civilian or policeman since the small American compound was surrounded by an Iraqi Army base with more than 7,000 Iraqi soldiers.
Government attorney Maj. Stefan Wolfe noted the viciousness of the shootings, saying Noonan had been shot five times, twice in the back, and that Carrillo had been shot seven times, four times in the back. Shonk survived despite being shot in the left leg, neck and left side of his head.
Wolfe told the jury that prior to the shooting, Platero complained to a senior noncommissioned officer that his roommates were not keeping the room clean and refused to follow his directions even though he was senior enlisted member of the room. That NCO disagreed with Platero’s assessment but told them to clean the room up.
Platero then sought intervention by a higher ranking NCO, who said he wasn’t interested in who was at fault, but that he would inspect the room at 5 p.m. the next day.
Wolfe said after the second NCO’s visit, the soldiers took showers or sent Skype messages in a civilian messaging center near their billets.
“Hours later, two soldiers were carried out in body bags,” said Wolfe. “Another soldier was medevaced out with traumatic brain injuries.”
He told jurors that of the four weapons in the room, only Platero’s weapon had been recently fired and investigators said all 18 shell cases found matched Platero’s weapon. Womack said fingerprints on the trigger and handgrip of Platero’s weapon included other fingerprints than Platero’s, suggesting someone else could have fired it.
He alleged that leaders at the compound failed to adequately secure the crime scene until investigators with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division arrived several hours later.
The first witnesses called were William Noonan, father of Pfc. Noonan, and Reylene Carrillo, widow of Pfc. Carrillo. Most of what they was asked pertained to their connection with their deceased loved one, but Reylene Carrillo was also asked if her husband was right-handed. She said he was left-handed.
That question was presumably asked because Womack had asserted that gunpowder residue had been found on Carrillo’s right hand, but very little residue had been found on Platero, even though he had purportedly fired 18 rounds.
Another witness, Lt. Col. Eric Larson, who was senior leader at the camp, said before the crime scene could be secured, a fire had to be controlled in the soldiers’ room. He said the camp status was “amber,” meaning all soldiers had a full magazine in their weapons but no round in the chamber. Larson also said the compound had three entry gates, and that security included cameras and a roving guard.
During jury selection, five senior officers and five senior noncommissioned officers were seated and given instructions by Judge Lt. Col. Tiernan Dolan, then questioned by government attorney Capt. Frank Kostik and defense attorney Maj. Paul Butler.
Five of the six prospective jurors challenged by the defense were excused, including an officer whose brother died in a shooting. He told Butler he had closure from his brother’s murder now that the trial was over and the assailant was found guilty but admitted he would not have felt justice was served had the verdict gone the other way.